Today's guest post is from the fine fellows CJ and PK over at Sediment (I've Bought It So I'll Drink It), one of my very favorite reads in the wine blogosphere. They have written a great new ebook on wine and the dinner-party, and with the Holidays here and many dinner parties on the horizon I thought it was the perfect time to get a little advice from CJ and PK. For their full counsel on the subject be sure to buy the ebook (Wining and Dining - The Sediment Guide to Wine and the Dinner-Party) on Amazon! At only $2.99 it'll be well worth your money and makes a great little gift for your wine loving friends too! So without further ado I give you their sage and always witty advice...
We felt it was incumbent upon us to offer our somewhat idiosyncratic advice on the subject of wine and the dinner-party – as that is the social event which forces most of us to seriously consider the wine we will serve or take as a gift.
In the UK at least, hosting a dinner party has become something of a competitive sport. We imagine the conversations that are taking place going home in the taxis (or, in some unfortunate circumstances, ambulances). How well have your guests been treated? What’s your house like? Your friends? Your cooking? And, of course, your wine.
So given the importance of wine at a dinner party, we should obviously take seriously both its selection and its service. Whether it is served to guests, or taken as a gift, your wine is a declaration, to anyone who can read a label, of your worldliness, knowledge, style and generosity.
So no, you do not simply trolley whatever is on 3 for 2 while you are in the supermarket, and plonk it on the table hoping it will pass muster. It will not. But where the modest wine does come into its own is in the kitchen.
There is continuing debate about whether or not you need to cook with good wine. In our ebook, we quote several authorities, ie people who both know and cook a great deal more than us. Julia Child, for example, said that “If you put rot-gut in, you’ll get rot-gut out.”, which is the best explanation I have found for the cooking of my fellow author.
But the chef Rowley Leigh, of London’s Le Café Anglais, says, “Whereas there’s no point cooking with really awful wine, I see even less point in cooking with anything really good. Winemakers spend a great deal of effort to arrive at a harmonious balance of sweetness and acidity, of fruit and tannin, which is dissipated practically the minute you put the wine in the pot …I could as easily pour Côte Rotie into the oxtail as give caviar to the cat.”
Jeremy Lee, who cooks at the London restaurant Quo Vadis, says that “Quality does show. Even in a casserole that’s slow-cooked. If you use the thin, cheap stuff you have to use twice the amount to get any flavour. Of course, there is a cut-off point… and you want to cook with a bottle you can have a glass of, that’s for sure.”
And that’s certainly true of my fellow author, who devotes an entire essay in our ebook to cooking with wine – or, as he puts it, “drinking wine while cooking, such that the first adds excitement to the experience of the second, without screwing it up completely.”
So the wine must, CJ says, “be on the cusp of drinkability, because what you are going to do is tip the required quantity into your food and solemnly dispatch the rest yourself while you have the chance. You will not only taste, you will absorb, like a spongecloth frequently wrung out and refilled. After all, what else are you going to do with a two-thirds empty bottom-shelf Valpolicella that only you could begin to find palatable?
“Six or seven minutes of this will find you in the groove, a groove in which you feel both awesomely competent and bafflingly relaxed. You might even put on some music and do a little dance as you move from chopping-board to sink and back. This is clearly the best way to be.
“This is also the point of greatest danger, the point at which you will, as night follows day, set fire to the tablecloth (I've done it), drop something big and breakable, put slivers of dried garlic into an apple crumble under the impression that they are almond flakes (I know someone who's done that). And then you will experience the realisation that you are in no way as magisterially omnicompetent as you believed yourself to be just three minutes earlier, that the meal is spiralling out of control, and that your guests have been making small talk in the other room for a good forty-five minutes now, and are getting angry.”
Can this possibly lead to a successful dinner party? It’s all about creating the right atmosphere. At an event where one is expected to juggle food, wine, etiquette, placement and conversation, one has to believe that the overall atmosphere will compensate for any failings elsewhere. One must have faith that if at least one of the hosts is in a suspiciously good mood, the rest will follow.
Wining and Dining – The Sediment Guide to Wine and the Dinner-Party is an ebook short, available from Amazon for less than the price of a glass of wine.